My talk in San Antonio on Saturday was very well received by most of the audience, with a couple of exceptions. During the Q & A, things got a bit heated with a guy in the audience who took exception to my advocating working with religious groups on service projects to help people.
Now I know that many people are against that. They’re wrong. But this guy was way more wrong than the usual advocates of that position are. He actually claimed that the reason we shouldn’t work with religious groups is because — get this — only atheists can actually be good people. He seriously said that. Out loud. Very loudly, in fact. I stopped him there and said, “No. No, no, no, no, no. There are good and bad people in any group of significant size. There are Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhist, Hindus and members of every other religious group who devote a great deal of time and effort to helping others.
He then began ranting about the evils of religion in society, which has nothing to do with the issue at all. Religion may well overall be a bad thing for society, but that doesn’t say anything about whether an individual member of any religion is a good or bad person or is genuinely concerned about the well-being of others. And he kept getting more adamant and angry until I said, “Look, I work with religious people all the time to do good things for other people. You know none of those people. You know virtually none of the billions and billions of religious people on the planet, yet you happily condemn every single one of them as a bad person merely because they’re religion. And that’s bullshit.
Which set him off even more. And finally I just got angry and said listen, you are insulting a great many people that I care deeply about without even knowing them, without ever even being aware of their existence. That’s offensive and it’s (very loudly and adamantly) fucking bullshit. And then they took the mic away from him.
A few minutes later, a very elderly lady in the front gave a bizarre, rambling diatribe that was totally incomprehensible. At one point she said that no one believes her when she says that Episcopalianism is the official state religion of the United States. Uh, good. Because that’s fucking bullshit too. And she just kept rambling, even after they took the mic away and gave it to someone else to ask the next question. She kept going after he started asking his question until I told her that we were moving on.
But that was a minor flaw in a great event with a lot of wonderful people.